CODE-NGO Strongly Opposes the Proposed Law to Criminalize Children
February 23, 2017
We, the Caucus of Development NGO Networks (CODE-NGO), strongly oppose House Bill No. 2, an effort in Congress to lower the minimum age for criminal liability from fifteen to nine years old. This is in conflict with the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, the 1987 Philippine Constitution and the Child and Youth Welfare Code, which clearly state that the promotion and protection of children must be the State’s main priority.
As the largest network of development civil society organizations (CSOs), we are deeply worried about this attempt to put younger children in jail supposedly to solve the increasing number of juvenile cases. We believe that this will not solve the problem but will instead only create a bigger problem both for children development and for Philippine society as a whole. Putting children in jail will steal their future – the country’s future for development.
According to the Declaration on the Rights of the Child, no child shall be subjected to torture, cruel treatment or punishment, unlawful arrest or deprivation of liberty. Based on the data from 1995 – 2000, more than 10,000 children were arrested and detained every year in the country, and they were meted the same punishment as adults. This “one size fits all” approach has no place in juvenile justice.
Lowering the minimum age of criminal liability to 9 years old would disregard the child’s development and violates the child’s rights. At that young age, children commit many mistakes. They have limited ability and capacity to distinguish between right and wrong, and they have a relatively high tendency to playfully engage in risky and delinquent behavior.
Reiterating the position of Break the Silence (BTS) “that children are just victims of circumstances and it should be the adults who must seriously be held accountable for the crimes and more so, for using and taking advantage of children. Based on the emerging knowledge about the cognitive, psychosocial and neurobiological development in adolescence. Brain underdevelopment and socio-emotional changes among adolescents and children influence their decision making and susceptibility to perform risky activities.”
Opposing the criminalization of children does not mean tolerating the wrong actions of the child offenders. We need to create a holistic and protective environment for children and to ensure that the conditions for any restriction of their freedoms should be in line with the children’s best interest as mandated by the UN Convention and the Juvenile Justice and Welfare Act.
We call on the House of Representatives and the Senate not to approve House Bill No. 2 and other bills lowering the minimum age of criminal liability. We further call on them to focus their legislation on safeguarding and promoting the children’s interest by providing basic services, prevention and rehabilitation and after care measures.
We also call on the Supreme Court and the Judiciary to uphold child’s rights and due process by implementing reforms in the current criminal justice system. The reforms should focus on the children’s rehabilitation and re-integration and should renounce retribution and punishment.
We call on the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) to further promote family-based and community-based programs and other social alternatives to properly respond to the needs of children and families who experience juvenile crimes and cases.
We call on President Rodrigo R. Duterte to take leadership against this proposed amendment and instead to ensure that the Juvenile Justice and Welfare Act is fully implemented and that human rights of all citizens, especially the children, are protected.